Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Indie Bourbon, Scotch Style: Alchemist Heaven Hill

Independent bottling of whiskey is a major phenomenon in both the United States and Scotland, but the industries are very different in each country. In the US, independent bottlers seldom disclose the distillery where there whiskey was made and often imply that they made it themselves at some rustic site. In Scotland, independent bottlers commonly disclose the distillery right on the label. Every once in a while, a Scottish distiller gets hold of some American whiskey and we get to see what life would be like in the full-disclosure world of Scottish indies.

Alchemist is a Scottish bottler known for its independent bottlings of such well known single malts as Highland Park, Macallan and Springbank. It's one of the smaller indies and occasionally bottles other spirits such as brandy and rum, and on at least one occasion, they bottled a bourbon.

As someone used to the American indie game, it's refreshing to see an independent bourbon bottling with the name of the distillery right on it. Alchemist's Heaven Hill is a 12 year old, distilled in 1999 and bottled in 2011. It weighs in at 46% abv. It goes for $90 which is a pretty hefty price tag for a 12 year old 92 proof bourbon, but then again, it's that rarest of things, an imported bourbon.

Heaven Hill 12 (Alchemist), 46% abv ($90).

The nose on this is pure Heaven Hill, sweet with honey and somewhat floral with a light woodiness at the end. The palate also has a classic taste of burnt caramel and brown sugar mingled with a small amount of wood which gives it just the right amount of character; it ends with a candy-sweet finish.

This is a great, easy to drink, no muss-no fuss bourbon. It's not overly complicated, but it's light and sweet and very enjoyable. If I'd tasted this blind, I might have guessed it came from an old dusty bottle. Maybe more than any other contemporary bourbon, the Alchemist Heaven Hill harkens back to the old dusty days when bourbon was sweet with a touch of wood and oh, so easy to drink. It's surely expensive for what it is, but it's thoroughly enjoyable. Hmm, maybe those Scots do know a thing or two about whiskey.


Lazer said...

I hope this pushes the Americans to put out more, or only non-chill filtered bottlings.

sam k said...

Does this bourbon stay in the original barrel throughout its entire existence? i.e., does it get shipped intact, to rest in a Scottish warehouse, then dumped and bottled in Scotland?

I'm trying to get my head around the concept!

sku said...

Sam, the bottle has an import label so I'm assuming the cask was sent from Kentucky to Scotland, dumped and bottled there and then sent back to the US.

Chuck Cowdery said...

More likely dumped here and shipped in a plastic or stainless steel tote. There's no benefit to shipping it in wood and there's a lot more risk.

Monk Funkster said...

@Chuck - Except that used bourbon barrels are a favorite for aging single malt scotch. So, the barrel's likely shipped over and sold in Scotland for a tidy profit.